Branch banking 2026: From robots in the lobby to personal tellers on campus
Three-D avatars. Machines armed with artificial intelligence. Robots, even. All of these, forecasters predict, will take over bank branches in the future. But it won’t be a hostile takeover, let alone one where humans are relegated to second-class status.
In fact, bank employees will see their roles expand, allowing increased flexibility to take services to customers in a host of revolutionary new ways. And if the question is “When?”, then the answer is this: Sooner than you might think. You can even mark your calendars from sometime around 2026.
Here, bankers, industry experts and solution providers offer their informed glimpses and predictions regarding branch banking in the next decade.
Goodbye teller, hello universal banker
“My prediction is that the U.S. will have 30 to 50 percent fewer branches in 10 years than today. There will likely be no teller stations, but rather a more open environment with voice-enabled and touch-enabled machines. … More complex transactions and advice will be handled through videoconferencing, as banks don’t need a specialist in every branch, whereas the universal banker in the branch will be more of a generalist. Moreover, customers will also be able to access these technologies at home or elsewhere on their devices, including video conferencing and wearables.”
Aravind Immaneni, head of retail distribution at TD Bank in Mount Laurel, N.J.
“The platform will consist of even more specialists, and platform bankers may be assigned a portfolio of customers when issues need to be resolved—think of the olden days when you could go see ‘your banker.’ Customers may be able to communicate with branch personnel via Skype and more banks will also have private soundproof rooms in which customers can have face-to-face conversations with offsite bank specialists via video-conferencing.”
Jon Voorhees, a consultant with Peak Performance Consulting Group in Austin, Texas
Personal tellers via convenient machines
“Banks will extend their reach to just about everywhere. For example, banks might place personal teller machines on college campuses inside a vestibule right on the campus, instead of building a traditional branch nearby. …
We foresee financial intuitions offering pre-staging capability through personal teller machines becoming more prevalent. Customers will be able to open an app on their phone, request transactions, and when they get to the self-service kiosk, the NFC reader will authenticate them through their phone and expedite the transaction.”
Suzi McNicholas, vice president of marketing at Source Technologies in Charlotte, N.C.
Smarter branches that feel the heat
“Banks will incorporate heat map technologies in their branches to see which areas bank customers go to most, and layouts per branch can then be adjusted accordingly. Banks might also add interactive tabletops in which customers can sit down and interact with all types of banking applications. Also, using customer information in real time will be the key to creating a personalized and seamless experience. For example, a customer reports his debit card lost using his mobile banking app, which then notifies him that his replacement card can be picked up in a nearby branch. The in-branch Bluetooth beacon technology sends an access code to his mobile phone. He goes to the self-service kiosk, enters the code to authenticate himself and is instantly issued his replacement card. While the card is being issued, targeted cross-sell messages appear on the screen and direct him to an available banker.”
Alyssa Arredondo, director of financial vertical marketing at Entrust Datacard in Minneapolis
Step up to the robot
I foresee branches really having a smaller footprint and virtual reality could play a huge part of that. Customers will be able to have conversations—via a virtual reality branch –with bankers at home, working on accounts or asking about issues, or collaborating with bankers in a more virtual world.
Banks will likely use AI in the branches. A customer could walk into a branch and walk to a robot with AI that will greet the customer and capture information from beacon technology and biometrics, to begin to put the information together as the customer gets ready to speak to an actual bank employee.”
Jaime Dominguez, director of strategy for retail banking and channels, Bank Solutions at Fiserv in Chicago
Branch staff, customers and consultative conversations
“What consumers really need help with is not so much whether they should open a savings account, but rather how much can they afford to save, and branch staff with the right skills can help them figure this out. More complex banking tasks, such as IRA distributions and account originations, will likely be automated. That will give branch staff more time to have more consultative conversations with clients and ensuring that the bank maintains compliance with regulations. Navigation within applications will also become much easier for employees, and customer information will be much more accessible in order to help them be more consultative.”
Nicole Sturgill, executive advisor at CEB in Arlington, Va.
Back to the banking future
“In 10 years, bank branches—if they exist at all—will be just one of the possible in-person meeting places at key moments of the customer journey. By 2026, all of a bank’s products will automatically be offered to customers based on the bank’s targeted analytics assessment, which will tell exactly when a banking customer needs a certain product. Even though the alert advising the customer to refinance was generated automatically, bank customers will still want to have that in-person conversation with a professional they trust to ensure they interpreted the machine correctly.
The customer will be in control of deciding when and where they want to meet, and they’ll be able to easily schedule an in-person or virtual appointment. The meeting can be at a bank building, or at a local coffee shop. … So by 2026 banking will become much more human again—reverting back to personalized, local relationships, like banks used to have with their customers.”
Gary Ambrosino, president and CEO at TimeTrade in Boston
Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a contributor to BAI Banking Strategies. She has more than two decades experience writing about financial services.